Mind the gaps? You could be a cultural broker.
Updated: May 23, 2020
I recently watched a really interesting video produced by an excellent leadership consultant and coach, who I have worked with a couple of times. It was about achieving sustainable growth and used his recent experience working with a team of doctors and medics during the CoVid crisis to provide commentary to support the theory.
One of the things that particularly interested me was the role of “cultural brokers” in enabling change within an organisation. Researching this I found the following definition:
“the act of bridging, linking or mediating between groups or persons of differing cultural backgrounds for the purpose of reducing conflict or producing change”.
Since my early days as a process engineer I have always found myself interested in the silo’d nature of businesses and how to optimise the value or customer experience will mean sub-optimising performance in one or other silo.
We can all quote examples of procurement overbuying to achieve a target cost per unit and then scrapping pallets of obsolete material months or years later or the production team keeping those machines running on the big orders to boost OEE whilst a small order get delayed resulting in an OTIF misses and a dissatisfied customer. I could go on…
Those interfaces between the function have always intrigued me. Like the gaps between floorboards there is a risk things get lost between them. Similarly the way different tribes and cultures quickly establish themselves and seemingly sane people lose touch with business realities in search of the personal or functional bonus targets.
Now if a business has a clear and compelling vision and purpose that can go along way to get everyone aligned and working towards that common goal and future. Nevertheless even with this and certainly in times of crisis and change as discussed in the video you will need cultural brokers to work between the tribes and cultures.
The video differentiates between 2 types of cultural brokers who promote cross boundary work in different ways.
Bridges – who are go betweens with considerable knowledge of the functions within a business who can figure out what each party needs and so allowing them to collaborate with minimal disruption to day to day routines.
Adhesives – Bring people together to build mutual understanding, facilitate collaboration and develop capacity to work across boundaries in the future
I am certainly have bridge tendencies, my CV is testament to that and I love nothing more than getting different groups working together to change and improve things.
So if you are looking at driving sustainable change remember to seek out some cultural brokers within your organisation. If they are like me they won’t be the loudest or most visible but they will be a key part of your success
And if you are interested here a link to that video